HomeLearning CenterOklahoma’s Mauree Turner: The Nation’s first Black, Muslim, Nonbinary State Legislator

Oklahoma’s Mauree Turner: The Nation’s first Black, Muslim, Nonbinary State Legislator

Originally published by Molly Hennessy-Fiske for the Washington Post

They’re a striking outlier on the floor of the Oklahoma House: the only masked face, the only hijab-covered head, in one of the reddest state capitols in the country.

Rep. Mauree Turner sits at their desk as other legislators chat and work the cavernous Greco-Roman chamber. Conversations hush as a chaplain appears to deliver the invocation on this early spring morning. Quoting Philippians and Jesus, he urges lawmakers to care for themselves so that they can best serve the people.

“At the end of the day, we’re human,” he says. “We have limited mental and emotional capacity.”

This is Turner’s dilemma.

Being the nation’s first Black, Muslim, nonbinary state lawmaker, let alone the first in Oklahoma, was never going to be easy. Turner realized that from the start. Yet it took time to grasp how isolating, debilitating and toxic the legislature would become for them. And how, one day, they would reach their limit.

“The whole place feels like wildfire,” Turner says.

Not just because of the threats that began after their election in 2020 and the nonstop misgendering by colleagues and staffers.The Republican House majority censured them in the aftermath of an LBGTQ protest.After winning reelection in 2022, they were moved to a windowless sixth-floor office, a former closet known as “the attic.” Two other novice Democrats of color were also located there.

In the face of all this, Turner remained resolute, even defiant. For their official head shot, they wore their lip ring, a paisley headscarf and mustard-yellow overalls. If they showed up in a sweatshirt, Republicans warned that their votes would be pulled for not adhering tothe dress code. Turner, who is 31, jokes about being summoned by the principal. Much of the Capitol’s culture has felt like high school — petty and stifling.

Focusing on their reason for seeking elective office — to represent “our most marginalized Oklahomans” — has always helped. Even so, what has Turner really achieved for those communities? Have they been righteous or unrealistic in standing their ground, in holding to principle despite the cost?

There’s no getting around the fact that Turner has yet to write a single bill to make it out of committee. Their greatest victory has been working with Democrats and advocates to pressure Republican leaders not to considercertain measures, like the one that would have barred gender and sexual diversity training at public agencies.

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